Unconditional Love is Protective
Young people often tell me that what they really need is for adults to “have their backs.” It’s as if they feel we show support when things go well, but aren’t as reliable when things don’t go as planned. The unconditional love of caring adults enables teens to securely launch into adulthood. Strong relationships always matter. Yet they have perhaps the greatest impact on the development of resilience during difficult moments.
We want our children to come to us during challenges in the same way they share their triumphs with us. They must draw nearer when our protective presence matters most. Consider these key strategies to let your children know you are there for them in good times and “have their backs” during hard times.
Show Support in Tough Times
- Use Reassuring Words. Make it clear you want to be there: “I’ll always be there for you. Trust that you can come to me.” Remain calm during tough moments and offer reassurance that even when challenges arise you’ll stick around: “You’re going to get through this, and I’ll be by your side.” Click here for strategies on keeping your cool during these moments.
- Listen, Don’t React. Active listening — emphasis on listening — lets young people feel as though they can talk. If you react with criticism to what your child shares you may add to their stress. They may feel judged and withdraw. So, take a deep breath. Give yourself a time out if you need time to process information they’ve shared. Go into the conversation with an open mind and be willing to listen and then inquire.
- Communicate You Feel Better When You’re Involved. Your children may withhold information out of fear of upsetting you. Explain that you actually feel comforted when you’re involved: “It makes me feel better to know what’s going on, regardless of the situation. Just knowing what you’re dealing with allows me to figure out ways to be most supportive of you.” This doesn’t mean hovering or solving their problems. It means standing beside them in support.
- Get Support. This goes for yourself as well as your child! Ensure you have strategies to manage your own stress. Your children will worry less about you when they know you are committed to taking care of yourself. There is often shame and stigma associated with professional help-seeking. Show them you view asking for support as an act of strength. For tips on how to prepare young people to seek professional help, read this.
- Be a Lighthouse Parent. Lighthouse parents are stable guides. They express love and offer security through rules and monitoring. Children and adolescents parented in this way are more likely to choose to tell their parents what is going on in their lives.
- Discipline Wisely. When young people are punished after disclosing troubling information, they’ll stop sharing. Discipline is about teaching — not control or punishment. Consider this from a 16-year-old: “If you continuously judge and punish me for sharing aspects of my life with you, don’t be surprised when I stop sharing.”
- Praise Effectively. Children and adolescents thrive on attention from their parents. They can’t wait to share their good news with you. However, praise about impressive performances can prevent them from coming to you when they need you the most. They may fear disappointing you. To avoid this, celebrate that they are coming to you rather than focusing on the specific reason — good or bad — of why they are coming. Shift your reaction from “I’m proud of you” to “Thank you for always sharing what’s going on in your life…” This celebrates the power of your relationship, rather than their performance.
You’ve Got Their Back
It’s our job to both notice our children’s successes and guide them through hardships. It’s truly a privilege to be there when it’s both easy and difficult. Following these strategies makes it clear to your children that you want to be there for it all. You’ve “got their back” during the good, the bad, and everything in between.